College Series: Making College Visits Matter

It is that time of year when we are starting to look towards the summer season. Besides laying by the pool, earning some money in a part time job, and forgetting all about school, high school students should use this time to begin the college visit process. Visiting different colleges is a vital process in finding what a student’s “fit” is. I have heard countless stories of student’s dream schools not measuring up once they got on campus. Are the buildings too old, too new, food is bad, no transportation, no diversity? I have also heard the other side where kids just stopping by found their school that just felt right. Whichever it may be, college visits are mandatory in this process!

I recently read a great article that was republished by USA Today stating “5 Things a Student Should do during a Campus Visit.” While not an exhaustive list, it gives a great picture of the must-do’s.

Here's my take on the five items listed in that article:

1) Explore the campus beyond the tour.

While the campus may be big and beautiful, getting to know the town outside of the campus is a major part of the whole experience. Asking youself questions such as “Do I feel safe?”; “Where is the nearest Walmart, ATM, pharmacy, hospital, art gallery, etc?”  This is very important to find that “fit” for you.

2) Talk with current students.

The tour guides are trained in what to show you and tell you. To get a true feeling of the campus, ask students in the campus common areas what they think of the school- both negative and positive. In the podcast with Bill Parker, he mentions asking on a tour, “What are the college’s biggest warts and zits?” Thinking outside the box with your questions will give you much more authentic answers than, “What is your favorite thing to do on campus?” And don’t be embarrassed- they won’t remember you! Ask away!

3) Eat on and off campus.

Food is important. Knowing your options can help you feel more at home. Do they have your favorite coffee and bagel place? Are there any options for special dietary considerations?

4) Use a checklist and write down your thoughts.

In an earlier post, I provided a great checklist for you to keep track of all of your thoughts during your college visits. Trust me, after you have seen several places, you will forget about some of the good and bad points of each school. Print it off, take the sheet with you, and keep track of the highs and lows at each school. It will make your decision come May 1st a much easier one.

5) Stay overnight.

Many colleges have some great opportunities to stay in the dorms, meet other students, and to “experience” college first hand on their campus. Some colleges even pay for you to make the trip down by plane or car. These are fantastic opportunities to see the college first hand.